The idea that someone might not know how to set up an email account, or even use a mouse may seem a bit strange…especially in the digital age, but for many people, using computers is not second nature.
Most current undergraduate students were exposed to computers and the Internet in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, when a reliable and user-friendly connection to the World Wide Web (through AOL or other platforms) was easy enough to obtain, at least for those fortunate enough to own a personal computer.
In most cases, children who did not have access to a computer at home were probably able to use one at school (though not having access to a computer 24/7 puts one at an automatic disadvantage).
Over time, in most developed nations, information tech know-how became part of the fabric of society, and as the world graduated from bulking CRT monitors and desktops to portable iPads that could do just about anything short of performing CPR (though there’s probably an app that can walk you through the steps), it became even more difficult for those without access to information technology to compete for employment.
What many Binghamton University students may not realize is that computer; Internet and Social Media competency is a privilege that opens doors to employment opportunities and access to important public information, culture and services.
“The New York Times reported last week on the Obama administration’s $4 billion Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). This program, part of the administration’s 2009 stimulus package, is meant to get broadband access to rural communities and the 40 percent of rural households that currently can’t get it.
The latest quarterly BTOP status report to Congress, submitted in December 2012, says that the 233 grants from the program have, so far, led to: 78,000 new or upgraded broadband network miles, 38,600 new workstations in public computer centers, 510,000 households and 12,000 businesses signing up for broadband access. According to the Times, though, the program has been plagued with - are you sitting down for this? - inefficiencies, waste and, possibly, corruption. Fiber optic cables have reportedly been laid in communities that already have it, or to neighborhoods where the project engineers live, while many hard-to-access communities are still doing without broadband.” (ITWorld.com)
Fortunately for local residents, there is a program, sponsored by Binghamton University and Broome Community College called the Bridging the Digital Divide Project (BDDP), which seeks to lessen disparities in access to information technologies. Formed in 2011, BDDP provides opportunities for Broome County residents to improve their computer literacy and even receive a refurbished computer for home use (if they do not already own one).
This knowledge of basic computer skills is becoming increasingly important as the world rapidly begins to make the transition to paperless transactions. For example, in 2014, the GED will no longer be administered on paper. Those wishing to take the exam will have to perform the various subject tests on a computer.
Alison Handy, BDDP Coordinator, recruits Binghamton University students and community volunteers to teach the computer literacy classes and refurbish used computers. Students can even receive academic credit for their work. Most volunteers find the experience to be extremely rewarding and educational and as an added bonus, it’s a great Resume booster.
Handy stressed that you don’t have to be a computer genius to volunteer. If you can type up a Word Document, or set up a Facebook Account you are more than qualified!
Opportunities to volunteer are not just open to individuals, student Organizations can work with Bridging the Digital Divide as well.
“We set up literacy classes in the surrounding area. Right now we are looking into 3 accessible locations for volunteers and community members”, says Handy. “We want to strengthen the relationship between BCC, Binghamton University and the city where both reside. This program is a great way to do so, because it provides practical skills to those who need it most.”
Classes set up by BDDP help job seekers with limited computer knowledge acquire the skills they need to look for a job on the Internet, where most available positions are now posted. This knowledge of basic computer skills is becoming increasingly important as the world rapidly begins to make the transition to paperless transactions. For example, in 2014, the GED will no longer be administered on paper. Those wishing to take the exam will have to perform the various subject tests on a computer.
“Without these classes, many Bridging the Digital Divide Students may have had a huge disadvantage. After the classes, many express their satisfaction with the program and the job seeking skills it taught them,” says Handy.
This semester, all of BDDP’s volunteer slots have been filled, but the program will be recruiting again at the start of Fall 2013. If you or your club/organization would like more information about BDDP, please send an email to Alison Handy, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.